Six prehistoric sites that are definitely worth visiting
Date Posted: 23/09/2015
Pictured: the chalk-cut figure of The White Horse in Oxfordshire. Photo credit: National Trust Images.
Across Britain, strange prehistoric formations stand guard as the sun rises and sets each day, immovable against the erosion of the elements and the passing of time, and remaining an insight into the mysteries of our prehistoric past.
Megalithic structures, old forts, stone circles and ritual landscapes all convey a rather clandestine atmosphere, and hint at years and years passing by unnoticed while we all remain absorbed in our daily living routines.
So don’t just spare the occasional thought for the magnificent sculptures that are situated on your doorstep; instead, discover how the passage of time and the rituals of our ancestors have affected these creations by visiting some of them on your next day out.
1. Loughcrew Cairns, Ireland
The Loughcrew Cairns are a series of tombs dating to 3200 BC. Also known as the Hills of the Witch, the 30-plus cairns and mounds display a series of Neolithic art, as well indicating a solid knowledge of astronomy from those who lived there.
Spread across three hilltops, you’ll need to endure a short steep walk up to the top to see the tombs - but it’ll certainly be worth the effort, both for the tombs themselves and the panoramic views across the surrounding countryside.
2. Grime’s Graves, Norfolk
Grime’s Graves is a Neolithic flint mine - the only one open to visitors in Britain. Dug over 5,000 years ago, the site stretches across 400 pits, and it was not until an excavation in 1870 that it was realised the lunar landscape was made up of mines and not graves.
Visitors to the site can see a small exhibition illustrating the history of the site. You can also descend nine metres by ladder into one excavated shaft to see the jet-black flint.
The site is cared for by English Heritage, so group rates are available, as are guided tours for parties between 11 and 30 people.
3. Rudston Monolith, Yorkshire
The Rudston Monolith is the tallest megalith in the UK standing at 25 feet tall. Situated in a churchyard in the village of Rudston, the stone is suspected to have been a sacrificial monument due to the various skulls found around the area during digs in the late 18th century.
The weight of the rock is estimated at 40 tons, and there are fossilised dinosaur footprints on one side. The stone was erected in approximately 1600 BC, and its depth into the ground is supposed to be as much as its height.
You can visit the standing stone for free, and the location makes for a great detour if you’re exploring the area of East Riding.
4. Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria
Castlerigg is one of the oldest stone circles in Britain, raised in about 3000 BC during the Neolithic period.
The uses of the circle are unknown, although current thinking has linked Castlerigg with the Neolithic Langdale axe industry in the nearby Langdale fells - the circle may have been a meeting place where these axes were traded or exchanged.
With a dramatic backdrop of the mountains of Helvellyn and High Seat, a visit to the circle is picturesque, and there is nearby accommodation including camping if you wish to extend a trip.
Plus, it’s free to visit.
5. Uffington Castle and White Horse, Oxfordshire
The Iron Age hillfort known as Uffington Castle consists of a large enclosure surrounded by a wide chalk-stone bank, which was formerly lined with stones.
Postholes and pits revealed during archaeological excavations indicate structures built within the enclosure during the hillfort’s occupation, while pottery and coins have been found in burial chambers close by.
Visitors to the hillfort can also see the striking chalk-cut figure of The White Horse, which measures 111 metres from the tip of its tail to its ear, and has been dated to the later Bronze Age or Iron Age, between 1740 and 210 BC. It may have been a territorial marker or a fertility symbol - its function is not certain.
6. Bant’s Carn, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly
While heading over to the Isles of Scilly might seem slightly ambitious for the viewing of a monolithic structure, a visit to Bant's Carn Burial Chamber and Halangy Down Ancient Village is certainly worth the trip.
Bant's Carn is a collection of chamber tombs, measuring eight meters in diameter. The tombs were excavated in 1900, and the remains of four cremations at the back of the chamber were found, along with sherds of Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery.
You can also visit the nearby late Iron Age/Romano-British village of Halangy Down, which consists of 11 oval-shaped stone built houses, plus the remains of a long-lived in society with little connection to the outside world.
Two audio tours are available from English Heritage for an outing to the site, one for Bant’s Carn and one for the village - these can be downloaded prior to a visit.